On wineskins, graves, garlic, leeks and onions

When a new work is started, the newness brings with it a level of discomfort. We often refer to the old system as tried-and-true, even if the results were less than optimal. The danger is that the new work will be hobbled by those who are determined to force the new work into the old pattern. I have seen this tendency in industry and I’ve seen it in the church.

In Exodus 14:11, shortly after the Israelites left Egypt, it appeared that the Egyptians would wipe them out (discomforting thought). In response, the Israelites cried to Moses “were there no graves in Egypt?”, the assumption being that that death was immanent and that by staying in Egypt they would have avoided that death. They preferred the relative safety of the old way even though it included slavery.

Later on in the Exodus story, the Israelites longed for the “leeks, onions and garlic” that they had in Egypt (Numbers 11:5). During the insecurity of pursuing the new way, it is easy to distort the memory of the wold way an make it seem better than it was. God offers them freedom (with some risk and difficulty) and they prefer slavery.

Jesus spoke against the desire for the old when he warned us against putting new wine into old wineskins (Matthew 9:17, Mark 2:22 and Luke 5:37). We should not try to force a new work into an old pattern.

I have been involved in church plants and the church I currently attend was founded somewhere around 13 years ago. I observe in myself and others a tendency to want to bring pieces of previous church experience into the new church. While this is not all bad, a dogged expectation that the new church will provide a similar experience to the previous church experience can be a source of irritation and can even lead to open hostility.

Should we learn from previous experience and continue the pieces of that experience that work well? Yes! If there are methods that are effective, they should be continued. At the same time, we need to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit which may take us in new directions. Learn from the past, but don’t be handcuffed by it.

It is also important to choose your battles wisely. It is one thing to argue for a discipleship method that worked well. It is entirely different to argue over a music style, dress code or other preference issue. The methods can be measured and evaluated. With some issues there is no means of evaluating them and it comes down to personal preference.

The point of this is to ask that we all be wary about prefacing a comment or suggestion with, “At my old church . . . .” There may be good ideas coming out of that experience, but a determination to stick with that experience may cause you to miss out on something even better. The words of James 1:19 come to mind:

But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

What do you think?

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Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.
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About Mark McIntyre

A follower of Jesus Christ who shares observations about how Scripture should impact the church and the world. Mark is the original author and editor of Attempts at Honesty.


  1. I grew up in an ethnic church where people wanted to do things like they did in the old country. Then someone would travel to the old country and see how different things were nowadays. The end result was to create a church relevant neither to its current culture or to the culture of the old country in the present day. We should build on the past, but it is only part of the foundation, not the whole structure. Old wineskins cannot hold new wine.

  2. I’ll tell you what just jumped out at me…”learn from the past, but don’t be handcuffed by it” . I don’t want Egypt and the “security” it offered. Getting comfortable with uncertainty is a skill that people would benefit from. I’ll never forget Chuck Smith jokingly saying 35 years ago “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken”. It was humorous at the time, but sooooo true. Flexibilty (orthodox flexibility that is) is like a shock absorber for your life. No human being can just take all the punches, bumps, and potholes that you may encounter in life. Yes, there are some absolutes, and they are our anchor. But when it comes to worship style, music, dress, leadership styles, etc in church ….those that are the most flexible seem to be the happiest, easiest to get along with, and the least likely to get jammed up on minor issues. I would ask people to identify the metaphorical “Egypt” in their life and then ask them to identify the “promised land”. We don’t have a “Moses” anymore. We have God’s spirit leading us now. What is God asking us to step away from? What if God said to live by faith, which He does, and be comfortable with and maybe even embrace uncertainty? Good discussion as always Mark.

    • Thanks for the comment George. I like what you say about getting comfortable with uncertainty. Our society gives every indication of increasing fragmentation and uncertainty. We have to learn to respond.

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